Tuesday, May 10, 2016

History comes alive in Menshikov's Palace

It was another warm, sunny day in St. Petersburg, our last day. We drove along the Neva and stopped at Menshikov's Palace opposite the Hermitage. Alexander Menshikov was a good friend and companion of Peter the Great. He came from a humble background but was quickly made a duke by Peter, and then Governor General of St. Petersburg. Under his supervision the Peter and Paul Fortress and the fort of Kronshtadt in the Gulf of Finland were built. Being the Governor General, he commissioned a large palace on Vasilievsky Island, where he lived until 1727. The palace was the most luxurious house to be built in the city to that time, superior to the Summer Palace of Peter the Great and therefore chosen for many official functions.

After Peter's death in 1725, Menshikov ensured that the throne passed safely to Peter's wife Catherine I, and during her brief reign he effectively ruled the country. In 1727, a few weeks before his daughter's marriage to the heir to the throne, Menshikov was accused of treason and stealing government money and was exiled with his whole family to Siberia.

Today the palace is part of the State Hermitage and now displays some of the museum's art from the 18th century. The restored interiors have walls dressed with marble and floors are covered with expensive parquet. Many of the floor designs incorporate eight or ten different inlaid woods. The interiors reflect the design traditions of Menshikov's era. We saw whole rooms covered with Delft tiles. In Menshikov's time there were twenty rooms decorated this way. Now there are only four. There were sculptures, paintings, engravings and furniture from Menshikov's time as well as his personal furnishings and belongings such as an exquisite astrolabe.

Between 1732 and 1918 the palace was home to a military school, but in 1967 it was given to the Hermitage.

It was lovely to walk around the palace looking out over the Neva. Although some of the rooms were quite ornate and Peter the Great held functions here, the palace did have more of a lived-in feeling. We finished by having an espresso in the restaurant, which was very elegant and furnished as if in Menshikov's time.

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